Development of children born to mothers with mental health problems: subcortical volumes and cognitive performance at 4½ years


In a prospective longitudinal study, we investigated the outcomes of children born to mothers clinically referred for mental health problems during pregnancy (risk group, n = 17) relative to a control group (n = 31). Child cognitive functioning, and for subgroups (n = 10 + 17), brain morphometry as derived from Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), was measured at 4½ years. Cognitive data included abstract visuospatial reasoning/problem solving and verbal scores. Subcortical regions of interest included the amygdala, accumbens area, hippocampus, caudate and putamen, chosen because their development seems potentially sensitive to an adverse intrauterine milieu and environmental experiences, and also due to their implication in cognitive and emotional processes. The risk group exhibited poorer abstract reasoning scores than the control group. No differences were found for verbal scores. MRI revealed smaller putamen volume in children in the risk group. Irrespective of group, putamen volume was positively related to visuospatial reasoning performance. Our results suggest that maternal psychopathology may be associated with child putamen development, nonverbal reasoning and problem solving skills.

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We thank Paulina Due-Tønnesen for neuroradiological evaluations. This work was supported by the Research Council of Norway.

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None of the authors have competing financial interests regarding this work.

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Correspondence to Astrid Bjørnebekk.

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Bjørnebekk, A., Siqveland, T.S., Haabrekke, K. et al. Development of children born to mothers with mental health problems: subcortical volumes and cognitive performance at 4½ years. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 24, 115–118 (2015).

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  • Maternal psychopathology
  • Neuroimaging
  • Cognitive development
  • Brain morphology
  • Abstract reasoning
  • Putamen